LAND AS A RESOURCE: THE IMPERATIVE FOR ITS SUSTAINABLE PRESERVATION
BEING SPEECH MADE AT THE 4TH DIKO DAY CELEBRATION HELD ON 1ST JANUARY 2010 IN DIKO
GEORGE S. KOCE
The Characteristics of land which are well known include fundamentally the following:
- It has a fixed supply. The space within some boundary can be neither expanded nor contracted.
- It is fixed not only in extent but also in mobility, unlike people, who can migrate, or capital goods, which are more or less mobile.
- It cannot be imported. Even in the case of buildings and other permanent structures, they differ from land in that they are created by human enterprise, and in that their creators decide where the structure will be located.
- It is not something to be discovered. Once people figured out that the earth was a sphere, and its approximate size, they knew that the land was “out there.” Entrepreneurship is vital in discovering the best routes to land areas, it is vital in discovering the potential value of those areas, but it is not vital in discovering that the land is out there. That was known all along.
Closely related to the preceding, is the fact that Land is not produced or reproducible. Land was created. It is the world, the planet from which man evolved, with the sun that energizes it and the orbit that tempers it. It is a free gift, variously expressed in different philosophies as Spaceship Earth, the Big Blue Marble, God’s Gift, Creation, the Promised Land, or nature. Mankind did not create the Earth with its space and resources, nor can we add to them. We can only acquire them, often by fighting, or rent-seeking, or in other counter productive ways. Man at best improves and develops capacities inherent in the free gift.
SOME PERCEPTIONS ON LAND
Over time the concept of Land has continued to adopt new perspective. To a layman it means the solid part of the surface of the earth as opposed to water as constituting a part of such surface, especially to oceans and seas. It is considered as any portion, large or small, of the surface of the earth, considered by itself, or as belonging to an individual or a people, as a country, estate, farm, or tract. In law land refers to any ground, soil, or earth regarded as the subject of ownership, including trees, water, buildings added by humans, the air above, and the earth below.
Private ownership of land does not exist in groups that live by hunting, fishing, or herding. In this case, the Fulani herdsmen immediately come to mind. In simple agricultural groups, the village community made an annual allotment of land to individuals for cultivation. However, today, the modern sovereign state asserts dominion over all property within its territorial limits, including the land. By the right of eminent domain Government can seize privately owned land for public use, with the proviso that the owner be justly compensated. In economics the term land is used to designate one of the main factors of production; it is another name for nature or natural resources. Depending on the types and forms of relationahips, rights and authority over land, the individual, or organization, has affected the level and extent of relationship that exit between land owners, those who have authority over it and how the power and authority is exercised on and over it.
From the preceding you will agree with me that land has over time assumed greater importance. While some hold the view and still insists on the primary importance of land as a factor in the economy many people dismiss that as a quaint, agrarian notion. Such people scoff that land was that significant back when most people had to work the soil for a living, but modern agriculture has moved far past that but nowadays we deal with modern issues of technology, global markets, information and so land is no longer a big deal. Accordingly, the scarcity of land has been adduced as the reasons that land has assumed greater importance.
LAND; WHAT IS IT?
If I were to ask each and every one of us to give a definition of land, the individual impression or understanding of what it is will without any fear of contradiction be shocking. A good number of people think that when you talk of land, that you are referring to farms. Whether a man is working away three thousand feet under the surface of the earth or whether he is working up in the top of one of those immense buildings in Abuja or a thatched room in a remote community; whether he is ploughing the soil or sailing across the ocean, he is still using land.
In owning a piece of ground, what do you own? The lawyers will tell you that you own from the centre of the earth right up to heaven; and, so far as all human purposes go, you do. In Lagos they are building houses many stories high. What are men, living in those upper stories, paying for? Well, the man who owns the surface of the land has the renting of the air up there, and would have if the buildings were carried up for miles.
This land question is the bottom question. Man is a land animal. One cannot build a house without a place to put it? Building the house, building materials are required. One may go further to ask on the materials the structure is being put up with. Stone, or mortar, or wood, or iron — they all come from the earth. Think of any article of wealth you choose, any of those things which men struggle for, where do they come from? From the land of course. It is the bottom question. The land question is simply the labour question; and it is from this element that that all wealth is drawn, and upon which all must live.
The definition of land that is most useful in economic theory is that land is all scarce factors of production. Land is the gifts of nature. It includes both rural and urban territory, mineral resources, water, fish in oceans and rivers, virgin forests, geosynchronous orbits and the frequency spectrum. Land is the most basic of all economic resources, fundamental to the form that economic development takes. Its use for agricultural purposes is integral to the production of the means of our subsistence. Its ownership is a major determinant of the degree of economic inequality. In both an urban and rural context the use of land and nature more generally is central to the possibility of ecological sustainability.
“Land” in economics means all natural resources and agents, with their sites (locations and extensions in space). Land is not just the matter occupying space: it is space. It includes many things, such as
- water and the beds under it,
- the radio spectrum,
- rights of way,
- take-off/landing time slots for aircraft,
- ambient air (the right to breathe it and the license to pollute),
- “air rights” to strata in the third dimension of cities,
- falling water,
- wild fish, game, and vegetation,
- natural scenery,
- the environment,
- the ecology,
- the natural gene pool, etc.
- Any franchise, license or privilege giving territorial rights is a species of easement over land.
- Your driver’s license is a right to use land;
- Red lights remind us of the critical value of space at central locations, since two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.
- It is worth a lot to have the right-of-way, as railroads do.
Land is indispensable to life, hence to economic activity. The same is generally true of labor and capital, but less “absolutely”. Land can exist perfectly well without labor or capital, and support timber and wildlife, but labor and capital cannot exist at all without at least some land, and often a great deal of land. Substitution is limited. Without land there is nothing.
LAND AS A RESOURCE
Bottom of Form
A resource is any physical or virtual entity of limited availability, or anything used to help one earn a living. Resource refers basically to those things that can be physically combined to produce goods. By this definition land is a resource. In combination with labour, and capital, unlimited types and forms of goods can be produced from land. Like any other resource, land because of its value is very useful. From it we produce goods so it has economic value. Depending on its scenery, land has aesthetic value. It also has legal value because human beings have varying rights to its use. Indeed land has ethical value as well because as human beings, we have a moral duty to protect and conserve land for the future generations. Invariably, land has utility, quantity (often in terms of availability), and use in producing other resources.
As a resource the value or the importance of land is closely associated with the following number of factors:
- The needs of the people. Human needs are not uniform all over the world. Over the years, they have grown and become more complex with the progress of human society. In very developed societies, people use a variety of highly processed products. On the other hand, in developing countries, the consumption of processed items is much less; while primitive communities like the Pygmies in Africa hardly use any processed items.
- The level of technology possessed by the people.The level of technology also influences the utilization of resources. For example, the Prairies of North America were inhabited by the American Indians who used the Prairies as hunting grounds. Later when the European settlers arrived, they used the Prairies for agriculture. Today the Prairies are famous for the cultivation of wheat and the rearing of animals on a commercial basis.
- The value of the resource changes with time. For example, water was used by early man purely for his personal needs. As time went on, water was used by humans for agricultural purposes namely irrigation. Later, water was also used as a means of transportation and humans built boats to travel on water. Nowadays, water is also used to generate electricity.
Relative to our discussion, I am tempted to ask, what do we consider as our most valuable natural resource? Is it gold, diamonds, precious or strategic minerals? Nope, not even close. Oil? Well, it’s highly important to industrial civilization, of course and a matter of great political import but by no means the most valuable.
Is it Water? It is necessary for life, to be sure, and thus a potential object of wars, but in terms of cost per cubic foot, not so terribly high, yet. What is our most valuable natural resource? By leaps and bounds, more valuable than all the others combined is urban land. Our most valuable natural resource is land.
Land is at the basis of human existence. The growing wealth gap worldwide, and the resultant poverty, homelessness, hunger and food insecurity can be traced to man relatioships with and on land. The primary cause of the enormous and growing wealth gap is that the land and natural resources of the earth are treated as if they are mere market commodities from which a few are allowed to reap massive private profits or hold land and resources out of use in anticipation of future profits. The problem is the Land Problem.
The Land Problem takes two primary forms: land price escalation and concentrated land ownership. As our system of economic development proceeds, land values rise faster than wages or income puttin g human being in a delimma. This dilemma is called the “law of rent” and has been mostly ignored by mainstream economists. Unequivocally, land values will continually rise fueling s frenzies of land speculation and the inevitable bust that follows.
The word “Ignorant” is an adjective describing a person in the state of being unaware. The term may be used specifically (e.g. “One can be an expert in math, and totally ignorant of history.”) or generally (e.g. “an ignorant person.”) — Although the second use is used less as a descriptive and more as an imprecise personal insult. Ignorance is the state in which one lacks knowledge, is unaware of something or chooses to subjectively ignore information.
In relationship to our discussion, I want to observe that Human beings need land in order to live. It is inevitable for their existence and survival. The way we handle it today determines what becomes of or children and indeeed generations yet unborn.
Unfortunately, the evolving picture is that we are spending our tomorrow today. Family elders for whom land is supposed to be held in trust for generations yet unborn have to my mind become selfish, short-sighted and deluded for the pleasure of today while making the future of our youth and future generation uncertain of their future and indeed potential beggers laboure and inded, slaves in their home.
To my mind, as much as ignorance is bliss, the need to open our mind to the fact that change is inevitable, we should open our eyes and indeed minds to the evolving new approaches to dealings in land for its sustainable use.
Like poor Lazarus in the parable of Jesus (Luke 16:19-31), if we do not develop restraint in the present desire and crave of selling land,our children will comw to survive only on the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table from our own inheritance. If you recall, the Law of Moses made ownership of land hereditary, with a man’s land divided among his sons (or, in the absence of sons, his daughters), and prohibiting the permanent sale of land. (See Leviticus 25:13-17, 23.) Under that arrangement, the most a man might do with his land is sell the use of it until the next Jubilee year, an amnesty declared once every fifty years, when all debts were cancelled and all land returned to its hereditary owner. This has an equivalent even in modern day lease arrangement. Let us give a second thought to sale of land or Land sales.
The basic fact of man’s physical existence is that he is a land animal, “who can live only on and from land, and can use other elements, such as air, sunshine and water, only by the use of land.” “Without either of the three elements, land, air and water, man could not exist; but he is peculiarly a land animal, living on its surface, and drawing from it his supplies.”
So man not only lives off land, levying on it for its materials and forces, but he also lives on land. His very life depends on land. “. ..land is the habitation of man, the store-house upon which he must draw for all his needs, the material to which his labor must be applied for the supply of all his desires; for even the products of the sea cannot be taken, the light of the sun enjoyed, or any of the forces of nature utilized, without the use of land or its products. On the land we are born, from it we live, to it we return again – children of the soil as truly as is the blade of grass or the flower of the field. Take away from man all that belongs to land, and he is but a disembodied spirit.”
Similarly, without land, clearly there can be no agricultural production or mining production. There can be no production of any kind without land. There could be no factory production, no trade, no services rendered, and none of the multitudinous operations of town and city.
The office building, the store, the bank, as well as the factory, need land just as do the farm and mine. Land is needed as sites on which to build structures. Likewise, businesses need land as the locations on which to perform their subsequent operations.
We do all want land, though it may be in different ways and in varying degrees. Without land no human being can live; without land no human occupation can be carried on. Man’s dependence on land as a resource is universal and endless, “…for land is the indispensible prerequisite to life.” For this we must be wary of tomorrow to avoid evolving into slaves on our own properties.
God save us from greed, oppression and ignorance and in its place vision and discernment.